He has reached the end. After speaking thirty chapters of material and saying everything he can think of to prepare Israel to enter the land, Moses has reached the end of his last sermon. He will speak to the people again to commission his successor, to bless them and to teach them a song of worship, but this is his final chance to instruct them. Forty years of walking with God, 40 years of leading two generations in the wilderness, 120 years of living under God’s providence, all coming down to six verses of what he most wants them to remember.
There is in these words a sense of extreme urgency. Moses knows he will not lead the people into the Promised Land and knows he is soon to die (and likely regrets it very much – 3:23-29). He also knows the hearts of the people intimately and knows how prone they are to stray and disobey. He knows they will turn away at the slightest provocation (and has predicted as much) and are ungrateful and forgetful. But he also genuinely loves them and desperately wants them to prosper under the covenant. So he will leave them with the most important words last. He is at the door and about to walk away and it is time to deal with the vital issues and what is most crucial for them to remember once he is gone.
The first 14 verses of Chapter 30 were really all about the gospel. Moses prophesied to them about a time in the future when God will give them new hearts and they will stand justified before Him because of His own work. God’s word will be in their new hearts and they will willingly obey it.
The remaining verses of the chapter flow out of the first 14. Since God will do it all someday and since He not only establishes His covenant with the people but enables them to obey it and prosper under it, and because He is not in heaven or the abyss but near, and because He has not made His Law hard to understand or difficult to find, they MUST choose Him. They must choose life.
These six verses form the key passage of Deuteronomy. The whole message of the book effectively comes down to what Moses says here. The history, the Law, the statutes, the instructions – all come back to the covenant and the choice of whether to obey and prosper or disobey and perish. Moses gives the people the most important words they must remember and in so doing summarizes the heart of Deuteronomy.
All through the book Moses has rehearsed for the people the promises of the covenant. If they obey God they will enjoy fellowship with Him and the attendant benefits of that fellowship. They will prosper in the land, they will have peace and security, they will have health and fruitfulness, their wealth will multiply. The curses of the covenant are the opposite – no peace, no security, no wealth, and ultimately, no place in the land.
Moses puts the choice in terms of life and death in verse 15. He establishes for them the thesis of all of his sermons. See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity. That is really what it comes down to – choose life or choose death. This is more than simply saying they will live in the land or they will be destroyed. He means for them to understand that covenant relationship with God IS life.
Life becomes the operative word of his conclusion. He wants the people to truly live. There is nothing apart from God. There is no life apart from fellowship with Him. To willingly live outside of His fellowship is to choose death. Obedience to the covenant enables fellowship with God which means the choice to obey is a choice to live. The purpose of all of his sermons is this – choose God, choose life.
He elaborates on the choice in verse 16. To choose life is to love God, walk in His ways, and keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments. To choose to love God is the foundation for the obedience. The one who loves obeys. What Moses means when he commands them to love God is for the people to set Him at the center of their lives and as the highest target of their affections. Nothing matters more than Him. Nothing takes precedence over Him. It is a choice to make HIM the basis of living and to look to Him exclusively for satisfaction and meaning. Moses can command them to love because it is what the follower of God does – he makes God his life.
Thus to live is to love – and loving ensures living. The one who obeys the command to love God is the one who chooses life. The Israelites choose life by choosing to love God. And loving God ensures obedience to His Law – which ensures fellowship with Him – which is what defines life.
Verse 17 gives the contrast to life and love. The one who does not choose life chooses instead to serve other gods and suffer the consequences. Note the progression. First the heart turns away – the affections go somewhere other than God. He does not love God with all of his heart and soul and might. Once the affections are on something else the desire to obey is gone. Then he is drawn away because he does not love God but loves the world and himself. Ultimately he will worship other gods and serve them (we serve what we love). He leaves the covenant relationship with God because he forsakes the command to love God. He looks somewhere else to find satisfaction and value.
The result is death. I declare to you today that you shall surely perish. For the Israelites this means the loss of the land. They will not enjoy security and longevity – they will be thrown out of the land and lose the privileges of the covenant. But for any person it means the loss of true life. The one who chooses to live outside of fellowship with God chooses to perish. There is no life apart from covenant relationship and there is no in-between state. The choice is simple and clear-cut; life or death – no third option.
Now he truly reaches the end. Note again the urgency. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. “I have done everything I can to make sure you understand what is in front of you. I will not be responsible if you go astray. You clearly know the choices and are now responsible for what you do.” He cannot do anything more for them. No one will be able to claim he did not warn them.
He does not simply give them the choices and then leave them to decide, however. He urges the path of obedience. So choose life. He loves them. He knows their weaknesses and their frailty and their tendency to wander and forget God. But he desperately loves them and longs for them to choose life. Remember that he speaks for God and God said, “Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!” (5:29). God loves His people and wants to walk with them and bless them. He does not want to leave them to make up their own minds. He pleads with them to choose life – choose HIM.
At the end of verse 19 and the beginning of verse 20 he defines what it means to live. He defines life. He urges them to choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him. To live means to love God, obey God, and hold fast to God (all aspects of fellowship with Him). Life = love, obey, hold fast.
We have defined what it means to love God above. To obey Him means to obey His commandments. To hold fast to Him is to remain faithful as to a spouse (4:4, 10:20). The follower of God holds fast to Him regardless of circumstances, regardless of temptations. He pledges his loyalty and complete commitment (“Here I stand, I can do no other”).
Moses finishes by telling them that loving God and obeying Him and holding fast to Him IS their life. For this is your life. That means in one sentence he says to choose life in order that you may live and that life itself is made up of loving, obeying and holding fast to God. THIS IS YOUR LIFE.
Conclusion & Thoughts
So Moses leaves them with a choice. The parting words of a man called the friend of God come down to a choice put before the people he has led for four decades. Life and prosperity – death and adversity. Choose fellowship with God or choose to live apart from Him. Choose to love Him, obey Him, and hold fast to Him – or choose to perish by living without Him. As they stand on the cusp of conquering and inheriting the land the people must choose which direction to take.
The same choice really lies before every man of every age. For the unredeemed it is a choice of whether to believe and accept the gospel or continue to live in the power of the evil one (I Jn 5:19). For the believer it is a choice of how to live each day (and each moment within that day). The life of a believer will generally be typified by walking with his Redeemer – a good tree cannot bear bad fruit (Matt 7:18). But within each day of that life the believer must choose to live – must choose to love, obey, and hold fast.
Remember that Moses speaks these words to the Israelites after telling them that God will circumcise their hearts and that His Law is in their hearts and mouths. How much more does this apply to the believer under the new covenant? God has done it all. He has given us new hearts and the power of His Spirit. He has conquered the power of sin such that we never need be under its control. He has revealed Himself through His word and made it clear how we are to live. So now we must choose life that we may live.
THIS IS LIFE! Life is not happiness or ease or freedom or prosperity or health or a good economy or a strong and free America or a loving family or having the right guy in the White House. Those – among many others – are the false gods the ones whose hearts are drawn away worship and serve. Life is loving, obeying, and holding fast. These are what enable fellowship with God – and living in fellowship with Him is what makes up true life.
Do we fully understand and appreciate this? Do we realize that because of the gospel we have in our power the ability to truly walk with God and enjoy fellowship with Him? That NOTHING in this world compares to loving, obeying, and holding fast to God? We love Him because He first loved us. We can obey Him because of the Spirit He provides. And we hold fast to Him because we cling to the one we love. Do we understand what we give up when we choose sin over Him? [Sin is horrible not just because of its negative ramifications but also because of what it keeps us from.] Do we realize that to choose sin is to look at God and tell Him we know what life is but for right now we would like to experience a little bit of the death side?
Remember what Moses says in verse 17. The one who misses this is the one whose heart – his affections and will – turns away. He becomes enamored with the world and his place in it. He deceives himself into believing that there is more than what God promises. And in the end his deception leads him to choose death over life (the ultimate irony since the temptation of sin is always that it represents real life and will give us what we miss as followers of God). This cannot be what typifies the believer because the child of God does not practice sin (I Jn 5:18), but it is what we do when we decide to stray. We live as death-choosers when we deceive ourselves into sin.
Though we fall, however, we always have the hope of life in us. His Spirit indwells us and His mercies are new every morning. He promises to forgive His children when they ask and He always longs for them to enjoy the life He promises (5:29 and above). He WANTS us to have LIFE. He tells us what life is through his word and longingly invites us into it. He invites us into life here on earth and promises us eternal life with Him on the new earth. We have it ALL. We have LIFE. We can LIVE. And nothing on the earth or below the earth or above it can compare.
So choose LIFE in order that you may LIVE, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and holding fast to Him; for this is your LIFE and the length of your days, that you may LIVE in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give to them.